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When is the best time to visit Montana’s Glacier National Park? Before the cars come back.

When is the best time to visit Montana's Glacier National Park?  Before the cars come back.

A SUNNY DAY In late May, my friend Sarah and I decided to spend a day biking through Montana’s Glacier National Park. We relaxed for miles on a thin ribbon of pavement between a churning creek, where icy turquoise-green water sloshed around huge boulders on one side and a sheer cliff draped in emerald moss and speckled with wildflowers on the other. In the distance loomed the snow-capped peaks of the Lewis and Livingston mountain ranges. With such a distracting scenery, you’d forgive me for dawdling. Occasionally I would look over my shoulder – as a regular cyclist I have developed an almost obsessive habit of checking for oncoming traffic – but I didn’t see or hear a single vehicle. Despite driving on the Going-to-the-Sun Road, the park’s prettiest and most popular thoroughfare, we hadn’t seen a car since passing Lake McDonald and Avalanche Campground an hour earlier.

Going-to-the-Sun Road is the only road in Glacier that traverses the park, running east-west over the Logan Pass of the Lewis Range. It closes completely in the winter and remains closed to motor vehicles as park road workers take on the monumental task of clearing accumulated snow. Since the top road can see snowslides of up to 60 or even 80 feet, it takes until June and often well into July to fully plow. Before that time, usually from the end of April or May, walkers and cyclists are allowed on the cleared parts of the road. This year, the road will not be fully open to cars until July 13 at the earliest. When the entire 50-mile stretch of sidewalk welcomes cars, buses, and RVs again, there’s a lot of traffic jams. In other words, those few months between harsh winter and bumper-to-bumper summer offer a rare opportunity to enjoy the astonishing beauty of Glacier’s scenic road in relative solitude.